Photos: Africa’s largest vulture relocation is ‘conservation milestone’

Henry

The largest resettlement of vultures ever undertaken in Africa was successfully completed on Monday after 163 crested and white-backed vultures spread their wings at their new home near Gqeberha (Port Elizabeth) in the Eastern Cape.

RNews previously reported that Vulpro, at the Shamwari private game reserve, will henceforth be the new home for the vultures. This after the Department of Forestry, Fisheries and Environmental Affairs gave approval in October last year for them to be transferred from VulPro’s Hartbeespoort Dam facility to purpose-built facilities at Shamwari.

These birds are at the forefront of a project to establish a breeding facility for sick or injured vultures where they are rehabilitated and can reproduce, but cannot be released back into the wild.

The shift involved more than 50 people and lasted a total of 18 hours. The logistics company, DHL, provided transport and security, while the non-governmental organization, WeWild Africa, provided 163 individual transport crates for the birds.

Prof. Katja Koeppel from the University of Pretoria’s Faculty of Veterinary Medicine, and dr. Johan Joubert, veterinarian at Shamwari, managed the welfare of the birds during the relocation.

Kerri Wolter, CEO of VulPro, says that this is the largest relocation of vultures ever undertaken in Africa and that they are extremely grateful that not a single death was reported during the relocation.

“The vultures were transported in 163 individual crates for almost 1,050 km to their custom-made facilities at Shamwari. The success of this will give a significant boost to vulture conservation efforts in South Africa – and on the entire continent.

“The 25,000 ha reserve offers a safe and well-balanced ecosystem for conservation programmes, as well as financial support and sustainability. The risks are also limited because the breeding populations are not established in one place. In addition, Shamwari’s anti-poaching unit provides good security,” she says.

VulPro at Shamwari Private Game Reserve currently consists of three facilities.

One of the camps is located near the veterinary hospital and houses severely injured vultures that require constant attention. An artificial cliff was built at a second facility – adjacent to the existing wildlife rehabilitation center – to provide optimal conditions for the crested vulture breeding pairs. The third camp is a pre-release facility built near the center of the reserve, from where healthy and young cliff vultures will be released.

“The offspring of the other vulture species will be taken back to VulPro’s Hartbeespoort facility and released at locations – which have been identified by the National Vulture Breeding Management Committee -,” says Wolter.

Joe Cloete, chief executive of the Shamwari private game reserve, considers the establishment of these camps to be one of the biggest milestones in the reserve’s 32-year history.

“To put it in perspective, I consider it as important as the resettlement of 160 rhinos. Vultures are essential for a healthy ecosystem and are seriously threatened. I cannot stress enough how crucial the relocation of cliff vultures to the Shamwari private game reserve is to our conservation journey.”

More camps will be added over the next three years.

VulPro is the only conservation organization of its kind on the continent and is at the forefront of re-establishing and replenishing vulture populations in Africa to address the serious threats to these birds.

“Human encroachment has particularly affected African savanna birds of prey. The many threats they face include being shot or captured, intentional (and unplanned) poisoning, killing for faith-based customs, as well as collision with power lines and other infrastructure such as wind turbines,” says Wolter.

She says vulture populations in unprotected areas have declined by more than half that of birds in protected areas and that their work is therefore extremely important.

“A second phase later this year will relocate breeding pairs of the cloth-faced vulture, white-headed vulture and cape vulture, as well as a few additional white-backed vultures.”

All of these vulture species, including the white-backed, white-headed and crested vulture, are considered critically endangered, with the exception of the rag-faced vulture, which is endangered.